Commentary Magazine


Topic: demographics

The Republican Party and Single Women

I’ve written in the past about the demographic problems facing the Republican Party, especially during presidential years. My basic point is that Republicans do best with demographic groups that are contracting and worst with demographic groups that are expanding. Which means the GOP faces systemic, not just transitory, challenges.

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I’ve written in the past about the demographic problems facing the Republican Party, especially during presidential years. My basic point is that Republicans do best with demographic groups that are contracting and worst with demographic groups that are expanding. Which means the GOP faces systemic, not just transitory, challenges.

A recent story in the New York Times highlights just one of the demographic groups that is both growing and becoming less reliably Republican: single women. Here are some facts, as laid out in the Times story:

  • Half of all adult women over the age of 18 are unmarried—56 million, up from 45 million in 2000.
  • Single women now account for one in four people of voting age. In 2012, 58 percent of single women voted. (During this year’s mid-term, this number could slide by one-third, to roughly 39 percent, according to the Voter Participation Center. Many unmarried women do not turn out to vote during non-presidential elections.)
  • Single women have become Democrats’ most reliable supporters, behind African-Americans.
  • In 2012, two-thirds of single women who voted supported President Obama.

“You have a group that’s growing in size, and becoming more politically concentrated in terms of the Democrats,” according to Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago.

Single women tend to be socially liberal–but, according to the Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, “the issues they really care about are economic.” Ruy Teixeira, a political demographer at the Center for American Progress, says unmarried women, and especially unmarried mothers, have greater economic vulnerability.

To be sure, Republicans can win presidential elections without carrying a majority of single women. (Among married women, a slim majority supported Mitt Romney, while he won the male vote by eight points.) But it will be tough to win those elections if the Republican nominee for president loses the female vote by 12 points and single women by 36 points, as was the case in 2012.

I wouldn’t advise, and because I’m a social conservative I wouldn’t want, the GOP to become a socially liberal party. But that doesn’t mean certain things can’t be done. They include giving more prominent public roles to responsible women in the party (for example, Kelly Ayotte and Cathy McMorris Rodgers). It means nominating a presidential candidate who is principled but not seen as the aggressor on social issues. Grace and a gladsome spirit beat a zealous and judgmental one. And it means putting cultural issues in the context of a decent and humane social order.

In addition, Republicans would be wise to enlarge the social issues they speak about. Liberals and the elite press will want to keep the focus on issues like contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Republicans need to counter by speaking in compelling ways about the intellectual and moral education of the young, about education as the civil-rights struggle of this generation, and protecting children from harm, including drug use and standing against drug legalization. They need to speak about an agenda focused on social mobility and helping people gain the skills they’ll need to succeed in a 21st century economy. Republicans also need to make it clear they want to strengthen, rather than weaken, the social safety net, including about the purposes of government in ways that reassures rather than unnerves people, especially those who are most vulnerable.

The GOP is hardly in danger of disappearing; in fact, it looks very much like it will take control of the Senate in addition to maintain control in the House. The Republican Party still possesses considerable strengths. The public is highly skeptical of much of the agenda of the Democratic Party. It helps, of course, that the Obama presidency is breaking apart and so, in many respects, is liberalism. Which means voters, including single women, are likely to give a fresh look to Republicans. It’ll be interesting to see what they find, how welcome they feel, and how they respond.

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The GOP and America’s Changing Demographics

The Wall Street Journal reports on new data released earlier today by the Census Bureau. The bottom line is that the demographic divide between older white Americans and younger minorities grew wider last year, “highlighting a long-term shift that might alter the interplay between generations.”

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The Wall Street Journal reports on new data released earlier today by the Census Bureau. The bottom line is that the demographic divide between older white Americans and younger minorities grew wider last year, “highlighting a long-term shift that might alter the interplay between generations.”

Among the data points (most of which come courtesy of the Journal story):

  • In 2013, nearly 79 percent of people 65 and older were white, but for those younger than 15, the share of whites was just over half. In 2000, those proportions were nearly 84 percent and almost 61 percent, respectively.
  • Non-Hispanic whites made up 62.6 percent of the country last year, down from 63 percent in 2012, continuing their long-term decline as the dominant American group. More whites died than were born last year, while the share of both Asian-Americans and Hispanics grew.
  • Hispanic population growth was fueled by an increase in births, as the number immigrating continued to fall. Just over half of all babies born in the U.S. were white.
  • Whites account for less than half the population in four states: California, New Mexico, Texas, and Hawaii, plus the District of Columbia. But among children under age 5, whites are now below 50 percent in 15 states—with Alaska joining 14 others in 2013.
  • In some states, the generational gap was quite large. In Arizona, for example, 82 percent of people 65 and over were white, while just 41 percent of those under 15 were white, a 41-point gap.
  • National Journal‘s Ron Brownstein has pointed out that from 1996 to 2012, the white share of the eligible voting population has dropped about 2 percentage points every four years, from 79.2 percent to 71.1 percent; over that same period, whites have declined as a share of actual voters from 83 percent to 74 percent (according to census figures) or even 72 percent (according to the exit polls). ” With minorities expected to make up a majority of America’s 18 and younger population in this decade, all signs point toward a continued decline in the white share of the eligible voter population—which suggests the GOP would have to marshal heroic turnout efforts to avoid further decline in the white vote-share,” according to Brownstein. “If the electorate’s composition follows the trend over the past two decades, minorities would likely constitute 30 percent of the vote in 2016.”

In light of these facts and tends, Republicans and conservatives have two choices: They can bemoan what’s happening, since non-white voters are less reliably Republican and conservative, offering up a lament for a lost America. They can focus their energy at getting a larger and larger share of a shrinking demographic group. Or they can offer a conservative governing vision and governing agenda that’s principled, reform-minded, and forward-looking, and that appeals to groups that have not traditionally been supportive of them. This is a challenging task but hardly an impossible one.

America is changing–it’s always changing–and successful political parties change with it, showing new voters how the party’s vision can speak to their concerns. In the case of the GOP, this doesn’t mean it needs to parrot the Democratic Party, which is itself intellectually exhausted and increasingly reactionary. But political parties that win accommodate themselves to certain realities and find ways to succeed within them. At a minimum, it would help if Republicans not make non-white voters feel like they’re unwelcome, a grave and growing threat to the social order. But more is required than simply that. We need leaders who can explain why 21st-century conservatism will make their lives better when it comes to issues like jobs, education, health care, energy, immigration, and strengthening families. Who can position the GOP as the party of growth, opportunity, and social mobility. And who can make this case in a winsome and persuasive manner rather than an angry and hectoring one.

This is certainly something that should be within reach for the party of Lincoln and Reagan.

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Stats Debunk Demographic Threat to Israel

Figures released today show that Israel’s demographic situation continues to move in a direction that is positive for the future of the Jewish state, quite in contravention to the prevailing wisdom about Israel’s impending demographic peril. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has released the birthrate figures for 2013, revealing that the Jewish birthrate is continuing to rise as the Muslim birthrate is continuing to decline. While population projections are by their nature often inaccurate on account of the myriad unforeseeable variables, it seems that this is a front on which Israelis can afford to feel some optimism. Yet, despite the growing body of evidence to the contrary, there is no shortage of voices warning Israel of imminent demographic doom. This is a central tenet of the doctrine of the Israeli left, and it is also a threat with which President Obama has increasingly been seeking to panic Israel.

The latest statistics show that in 2013 there were a total of 127,101 Jewish births, as opposed to 34,766 births to Muslim families. This means that in 2013 the Jewish birthrate increased by 1.3 percent while among Muslims the birthrate fell by 5.5 percent. The growing Jewish birthrate is in large part being driven by the religious sector, however it is also being boosted by Russian immigrants whose own birthrate is now closer to the Israeli average. Overall, the percentage of Israel’s population that is not Jewish has risen in recent years, with Arab Israelis now constituting just under 21 percent of the population. Yet with the Arab birthrate subsiding, and with that of the Jews continuing to trend upward, within pre-1967 Israel it appears that the Jewish character of the state will remain strong. That, however, is without considering the situation in the West Bank.

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Figures released today show that Israel’s demographic situation continues to move in a direction that is positive for the future of the Jewish state, quite in contravention to the prevailing wisdom about Israel’s impending demographic peril. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has released the birthrate figures for 2013, revealing that the Jewish birthrate is continuing to rise as the Muslim birthrate is continuing to decline. While population projections are by their nature often inaccurate on account of the myriad unforeseeable variables, it seems that this is a front on which Israelis can afford to feel some optimism. Yet, despite the growing body of evidence to the contrary, there is no shortage of voices warning Israel of imminent demographic doom. This is a central tenet of the doctrine of the Israeli left, and it is also a threat with which President Obama has increasingly been seeking to panic Israel.

The latest statistics show that in 2013 there were a total of 127,101 Jewish births, as opposed to 34,766 births to Muslim families. This means that in 2013 the Jewish birthrate increased by 1.3 percent while among Muslims the birthrate fell by 5.5 percent. The growing Jewish birthrate is in large part being driven by the religious sector, however it is also being boosted by Russian immigrants whose own birthrate is now closer to the Israeli average. Overall, the percentage of Israel’s population that is not Jewish has risen in recent years, with Arab Israelis now constituting just under 21 percent of the population. Yet with the Arab birthrate subsiding, and with that of the Jews continuing to trend upward, within pre-1967 Israel it appears that the Jewish character of the state will remain strong. That, however, is without considering the situation in the West Bank.

The scaremongering that both Obama and Kerry engage in, to say nothing of the Jewish left in America and Israel, argues that Israel’s demographic predicament must factor in the entire population west of the Jordan River so as to include the Palestinians. This itself is a questionable proposition. Certainly in the case of Gaza there is no reason the population there should be included in Israel’s demographic situation. Israel pulled out of the strip entirely in 2005 and the claim made by some on the left that Israel guarding Gaza’s borders against terrorism constitutes a continuation of the occupation is unconvincing. 

When it comes to the West Bank the matter is slightly more complicated. The Haaretz-J Street-Beinart mantra, that has now been adopted by Obama too, is that Israel cannot maintain a presence in the West Bank and remain both a Jewish and democratic state. This is also misleading. The democracy argument is particularly flimsy because the Palestinians are supposed to be able to vote in their own elections. The fact that the Palestinian Authority never holds any is beside the point.

That said, even if Israel were to have to include the West Bank Palestinians in the demographic equation, things are still nowhere near as bleak as is often suggested. As Uri Sadot wrote in Foreign Policy in December, if one were to take an upper estimate of the number of Arabs in the West Bank (some claim over of 2.5 million people) and add it to the number of Arabs in Israel, then these people would still constitute less than a third of the overall population. Yet it is increasingly being suggested that the Palestinian Authority may have grossly misled the international community about the number of Palestinians that actually live in the West Bank. A 2006 study by academics at Bar Ilan University made a strong case for the belief that the PA may have inflated its population statistics by up to a million people by double-counting certain groups and including Palestinians living overseas. This would have the advantage of not only damaging Israeli morale, but more importantly it allows the PA to extract more funds from the international community on the grounds it has this much larger population to provide for.

Caroline Glick, in her latest book The Israeli Solution, points out that the declining birthrate that we see among Arab Israelis is in actual fact in line with trends across the Arab world, and is consistent with a similar trend among Palestinians living in the West Bank. As Glick observes, there is now parity between Jewish and Palestinian birthrates, with both having an average of 2.98 births per woman. For Palestinians this is a sharp decrease from the 4.25 births per woman seen in 2000, while Jewish Israeli birthrates have picked up from 2.6 births in 2000. Project this pattern forward and the demographic threat becomes a myth. And in addition it should be recalled that Israel has regularly boosted its demographic lead with waves of Jewish immigration. Given the worsening economies and anti-Semitism in both Europe and South America, there is no reason to think that immigration will not continue to supplement the Jewish population in Israel.

In 1987 Thomas Friedman gave Israel twelve years until the demographic bomb went off. We’re still waiting. Those, such as Obama, who attempt to use demographics to alarm Israel into rushing into territorial concessions that could be strategically reckless simply don’t have the stats to backup their threats.  

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Demographics and the GOP

At a recent lunch, several friends and I discussed the future of the Republican Party. I argued that the challenges facing the Republican Party, at least at the presidential level, are significant and fairly fundamental. 

After our conversation, I cobbled together some data that underscore my concern–data based on previously published works, including an essay in COMMENTARY I co-authored with Michael Gerson, articles by Jeffrey Bell in the Weekly Standard and Ron Brownstein in National Journal, an essay by my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Henry Olsen in National Affairs, and portions of the book Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Below are the data points along with links to the sources (note: the paragraphs are taken from the original sources, in some cases with very minor changes for the purposes of clarification). Readers might find this of interest.

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At a recent lunch, several friends and I discussed the future of the Republican Party. I argued that the challenges facing the Republican Party, at least at the presidential level, are significant and fairly fundamental. 

After our conversation, I cobbled together some data that underscore my concern–data based on previously published works, including an essay in COMMENTARY I co-authored with Michael Gerson, articles by Jeffrey Bell in the Weekly Standard and Ron Brownstein in National Journal, an essay by my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Henry Olsen in National Affairs, and portions of the book Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Below are the data points along with links to the sources (note: the paragraphs are taken from the original sources, in some cases with very minor changes for the purposes of clarification). Readers might find this of interest.

Barack Obama v. Mitt Romney

  • In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 126 electoral votes (332 to Romney’s 206) and won the popular vote by nearly 5 million. Mr. Obama is the first president to achieve the 51 percent mark in two elections since President Eisenhower and the first Democrat to do so since Franklin Roosevelt. He did this despite losing white voters by a larger margin than any winning presidential candidate in American history.
  • Of the 12 “battleground” states, Obama won 11—eight of them by a margin of more than 5 percentage points. Remarkably, this meant that if there had been a uniform 5 point swing toward the Republicans in the national popular vote margin—that is, had Romney won the popular vote by 1.1 percentage points instead of losing it by 3.9—Obama would still have prevailed in the Electoral College, winning 23 states and 272 electoral votes. (Source: Jeffrey Bell)
  • Neil Newhouse, Mitt Romney’s pollster, ran through the exit poll data, explaining that Chicago had dramatically pulled off its coalition-of-the-ascendant play–turning out an electorate even more diverse than in 2008, not less, as Newhouse assumed would be the case. Nationally, the white vote fell from 74 to 72 percent, while the black proportion held stead at 13. Participation among Hispanics rose from 8 to 10 percent, among women from 53 to 54 percent, and among young voters from 18 to 19 percent. Obama’s share of each of those blocs ranged from commanding to overwhelming: 93 percent of African Americans, 71 percent of Latinos, 55 percent of women (and 67 percent of unmarried women), and 60 percent of young voters. (Source: Mark Halperin and John Heilemann)
  • In 2012 the minority share of the vote rose to 28 percent, 2 percentage points above 2008 and more than double the 12 percent level for Bill Clinton’s first victory in 1992. (Source: Ron Brownstein

Historic/Demographic Trends

  • In the last two decades of Democratic dominance, 18 states and the District of Columbia have voted Democratic six out of six times. These currently have 242 electoral votes, which is quite close to the 270 needed to win the presidency. There are 13 states that have voted Republican in every election since 1992, but they total just 102 electoral votes. (Source: Jeffrey Bell)
  • Out of the last six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 210 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to the Democrats’ 113. In three of those contests, the Democrats failed to muster even 50 electoral votes. (Source: Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner)
  • White voters, who traditionally and reliably favor the GOP, have gone from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012. (This decline is partially an artifact of a change in the way the Census Bureau classifies Hispanics, who used to be counted among whites before being placed in a separate category.) Mitt Romney carried the white vote by 20 points. If the country’s demographic composition were still the same in 2012 as it was in 2000, he would now be president. If it were still the same as it was in 1992, he would have won in a rout. (Source: Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner)
  • The 2012 election was clearly decided by the non-white vote for the first time in American history. About 72 percent of the electorate in the 2012 election was white, according to the exit poll. Romney carried the white vote 59 percent to 39 percent, a 20-point lead and the fourth highest for a Republican since the advent of exit polling. No presidential candidate in American history had ever carried 59 percent of the white vote and lost. Yet Romney lost the election by four points because he lost the non-white vote by 63 points. (Source: Henry Olsen)
  • From 1996 to 2012, according to census figures, the white share of the eligible voting population (citizens who are older than 18) has dropped about 2 percentage points every four years, from 79.2 percent to 71.1 percent; over that same period, whites have declined as a share of actual voters from 83 percent to 74 percent (according to census figures) or even 72 percent (according to the exit polls). With minorities expected to make up a majority of America’s 18 and younger population in this decade, all signs point toward a continued decline in the white share of the eligible voter population—which suggests the GOP would have to marshal heroic turnout efforts to avoid further decline in the white vote share. If the electorate’s composition follows the trend over the past two decades, minorities would likely constitute 30 percent of the vote in 2016. (Source: Ron Brownstein
  • If minorities reach 30 percent of the vote next time, and the 2016 Democratic nominee again attracts support from roughly 80 percent of them, he or she would need to capture only 37 percent of whites to win a majority of the popular vote. In that scenario, to win a national majority, the GOP would need almost 63 percent of whites. Since 1976, the only Republican who has reached even 60 percent among whites was Reagan (with his 64 percent in 1984). Since Reagan’s peak, the Democratic share of the white vote has varied only between 39 percent (Obama in 2012 and Clinton in the three-way election of 1992), and 43 percent (Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 1996). (Source: Ron Brownstein)
  • In 2016, if there is not a dramatic reduction in African-American turnout, a Republican presidential candidate will need to get 60 percent of the white vote, plus a record-high share among each portion of the non-white vote (African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and others) to win a bare 50.1 percent of the vote. (Source: Henry Olsen)
  • Every Democratic nominee since 1980 has run better among single than married whites. In 1984, married couples represented 70 percent of all white voters; by 2012, that number slipped to 65 percent. (The decline has been especially sharp among married white men, who have voted more Republican than married women in each election since 1984.) Another trend steepening the grade for the GOP is growing secularization. Since 2000, Democrats have averaged a 32-point advantage among whites who identify with no religious tradition, and the share of them has increased from 15 percent in 2007 to 20 percent by 2012, according to studies by the Pew Research Center. (Source: Ron Brownstein)

My purpose with this post is to present the empirical data, not to interpret it, except to say this: Republican problems are not superficial, transient, or cyclical. The trends speak for themselves. The GOP therefore needs to articulate a governing vision and develop a governing agenda that can reach groups that have not traditionally been supportive of it. Republicans, at least when it comes to presidential elections, have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.

For the GOP to revivify itself and enlarge its appeal, Republicans at every level will have to think creatively even as they remain within the boundaries of their core principles. It isn’t an easy task, but it’s certainly not an impossible one. (Bill Clinton did this for the Democratic Party in 1992 and Tony Blair did this for the Labour Party in 1997.) It would of course help if those speaking for the party were themselves irenic rather than angry, inviting rather than off-putting, individuals of conviction who also possess the gift of persuasion and a certain grace. “You know what charm is,” Albert Camus wrote in The Fall, “a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question.”

Whether Republicans understand the nature of the challenges they face–and if they do how they intend to deal with them and who will emerge from their ranks to lead them–will go a long way toward determining the future of their party and their country.

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